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Federal Judge: Police Can Install Cameras on Private Property Without Warrant

Federal Judge William Griesbach recently ruled that police officers in Wisconsin did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they secretly installed cameras on private property, without a warrant, in order to spy on two suspects: Manuel Mendoza and Marco Magana.

The police officers installed the cameras in an open field where they suspected Mendoza and Magana were growing marijuana. Neither Mendoza nor Magana owned or leased the field, reports and

After some incriminating video was recorded, the police officers got a search warrant and arrested Mendoza and Magana, whose lawyers then asked the judge to throw out all the video collected prior to the search warrant.

But Judge Griesbach approved the ruling of a magistrate judge that the Fourth Amendment would only protect the homes and land owned by Mendoza and Magana, not open fields which are not part of their residences.

The Fourth Amendment protects "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."

Judge Griesbach ruled that "open fields, as distinguished from curtilage, are not 'effects' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment."

Because it would be legal for the police to enter a private field to collect evidence, Judge Griesbach ruled it was also be legal to install cameras there [to collect evidence]. 

Judge Griesbach also said: "The Supreme Court has upheld the use of technology as a substitute for ordinary police surveillance."


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